Archives for posts with tag: UX

Oh my little blog, I’m sorry I abandoned you for so long…

The last couple years, I admit, I haven’t taken time for reflection. I’ve been solely career-focused, obsessed with work and broadening my skills and output in UX research, and learning how to (re)brand myself in a more unique light. I spent a very, very productive year at an amazing ed tech startup creating and building their user research capabilities from scratch. I found a mentor, changed jobs; I’m now mentoring others. The whole experience has taught me so much about what I’m good at, what I need to improve. And one thing I need to improve in my work and life is that elusive concept of balance.

I’ve been focusing so much on improving the Function of me, that I’ve forgotten about the rest, the Form, or the “ideal” form, to reference Plato. Sleep? I don’t need sleep! Provide / Produce / Do has been my motto. No time to exercise!

In User Experience we value the combination of form and function. Products should be intuitive, useful, usable, AND delightful. But I’ve been doing myself a disservice. I need time to nurture my inner self and reflect; without reflection, there is no learning, no progress.

I’ve been denying myself whitespace. The space to just “be.”

Reflecting on what I value and need lately has also made me consider how little time there really is. I read how others have learned to live by minimalism. We seem to think that technology will save us time, but new devices and apps only compete for your attention and won’t increase your time or quality of life, or your focus.

So I’m writing again. And exercising, too. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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I know, it seems like I’ve abandoned you, mon petit blog. I haven’t! I’ve just been waiting to write the perfect post.

Recently, Tim Minor at UX Booth published a post about memory recall as studied by psychologists, and how this could apply to websites:

The research suggests that the simple act of walking through a doorway creates a new memory episode, thereby making it harder for us to recall aspects from a previous episode (such as why we came into the room)!

In terms of user experience, this is like saying that every time a user clicks to a new page on your website, they forget whatever they’ve just seen or learned on the previous page. It’s also a sign that we have extremely short attention spans! If memory serves me (and it may not), The Design of Everyday Things talks about how good design creates “contextual memory” so that people don’t HAVE to remember everything; they only have to remember how to figure it out. Like opening a door — if the handle is designed properly, most people quickly process whether they should push or pull the handle to swing open the door in a given direction. Their brains create a memory in that particular context, even if they’ve never seen that particular door (or style of handle) before.

How I see numerical digits in my mind's eye.

The question is, how do you create contextual memory for the users of your website? Our memories originate from strong sense impressions, so logically one could argue that to build contextual memory online, you have to invigorate the user’s senses. The most obvious method is through visual stimulation — form and color — but I’d argue that the most memorable websites probably employ a combination of strong visual + tactile sensation (through moving your mouse, perhaps?). When you use your mouse to hover over a drop-down menu, you *almost* feel the sensation of it. Almost. Tactile sensation may be more connected to the field of haptic technology, but I’m sure we’ll soon be seeing applications (and devices) for it soon in the context of online user experience. One great example is the Wii (and other) game controllers, how they vibrate or rumble when you move a certain way within the game — they create a more realistic, memorable impression.

But I wanted to say something a bit more personal about visual memory. About 10 years ago, I learned that I had a particular condition called synesthesia, where I see graphemes (numbers and letters) in very particular, permanent colors in my mind’s eye, and even when I’m reading text on a page or screen. It’s hard to describe, especially because I always assumed everyone saw things the same way I did. At a recent lecture however, I met several other synesthetes with similar or varying types of sensory mixing.  The author/lecturer Maureen Seaberg discussed how researchers estimate that about 4-5% of the population has this experience, although some people’s brains combine music with color, or shapes with taste. Many of us argued vehemently about our color schemes for the letter “A” (it’s always light blue for me), and found comfort in our shared experience.

My own synesthesia has helped me create certain memories, I believe. Because my characters are always colored the same, I can more easily remember numbers, or tell when something is misspelled, or wrongly coded. I think it enables me to fix code bugs faster when I’m scanning the page, and in the past it definitely helped me find errors in my college research papers when editing. There’s also a fascination for me with poetry, and the way certain words appear on the page. I know e.e. cummings explored this quite a bit, so perhaps he also had it.

The BEST, most sensible, UX-friendly website would perhaps be one where I could PERSONALIZE my own graphemes/characters according to how I see them. That would make reading or typing or coding so much EASIER! A girl can dream, at least (sigh).

The other night I was watching a documentary about origami, “Between the Folds“.

Each of the artists profiled said that in their earlier years of origami, they focused on the complexity of each creation, on how many new folds and shapes they could create or use. But as they matured (in both age and artistry), each was drawn more and more to the simplicity.

One man said he challenges himself over and over to create all kinds of shapes using only one single fold in the paper. It reminds me of the mysterious Möbius strip.

Personally I find origami soothing and relaxing — a way of losing yourself in something, as you concentrate on making the perfect creases and flaps. What’s between the folds is whitespace, after all.

Similarly, I think the best websites are like this too; when the experience of reading, interacting or purchasing something is easy and pleasurable. Everything you need is right at your fingertips, and you don’t have to look very far to find what helps or stimulates you.

I’ve been reading the UX Bible recently, Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, and I find that I get increasingly irritated when office phones don’t function as they should, or sites that I regularly read switch their design/layout and it makes it harder to enjoy.

For instance, I regularly check this site for news and updates, but the one thing I wish they’d do differently is function more like Gawker or Lifehacker (and their other sister sites), where the right nav articles are ALWAYS available, and you never stray from the main format screen. Now I have to continuously hit the Back button or the homepage icon to return to the full list of articles.

Something like a one-fold solution would do the trick, I think.

Sorry I’ve been away — moving and traveling — aren’t those life’s constants, anyway?

InteractiveWall from Festo HQ via A List Apart on Vimeo. The wall reacts to the presence of users, just like responsive websites should.

Last night B and I re-watched Inception, and I was thinking this morning that it probably wasn’t as popular or deemed Oscar-worthy as it could have been, potentially because the film didn’t use universal archetypes to create its dream space. The few characters that were fleshed out had flaws and attributes, but they weren’t necessarily the kind that most people identify with. It’s the universal that draws people and allows them to engage with a film or product, but in order to access the universal, you have to truly know your users (audience).

Along this same note, earlier I was reading about responsive web design, and how web designers need to be aware that they don’t know much info about the user; and many times, they don’t have a clue what kind of device or screen resolution the user uses.

The idea is that you now have to design for every single variable and difference — for devices that don’t yet exist, that will react to users who may not exist yet either!

So perhaps the lesson is that the future of web design and user experience is HOW to create and architect a (white) space that allows the User to dream his own dream — to fill a universal space with his or her own particular subconscious. Easy, right?

This week there’s a New Yorker article about BitCoin. I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago in a separate New York mag piece, but it does make me think about where currency, or any kind of consumer exchange is headed. Are we all going to manifest destiny and become pioneers in a virtual wild West?

Even if BitCoin is a convoluted form of a Ponzi scheme, it does make an interesting use case of peer-to-peer networks, similar to file and music sharing (not easily regulated). This is how the flow of information has changed; instead of downloading (learning) info from a centralized repository (like school or a library), now anyone can exchange goods or services with anyone else online. When I was a child, if you wanted to learn about Japan or some other exotic subject, you were mostly limited to whatever books or articles were available in the library. Now, elementary school kids writing a book or travel report about Japan can actually email children in Tokyo to get a first-hand view.

This changes the user experience of any exchange. Even if the actual encryption software is safe, we are now placing trust in each other, and not a singular entity (like a federally insured bank). BitCoin exchanges money for virtual money, which can then be used for goods and services, but it’s because of growing distrust of the banking system that it’s gaining popularity. $5 debit card fees, anyone?

I just wonder, how soon before there are gun-slinging outlaws and high-noon showdowns in the virtual space? If I find a way to hold your BitCoins hostage, what rogue samurai warrior would be able to stop me?

After my last post about neural networks and movie sales predictors, I looked up the original New Yorker article. Gladwell intros with a quote by philosopher David Hume:

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”

Then the article contrasts this by laying out the evidence that there DO seem to be some standardized evaluators of what human beings find appealing in music and in movies (and websites?). What about books? The canon of literature?

The High Priestess

The High Priestess card from the popular Rider-Waite Tarot deck represents what we don't know or can't define; in other words, "whitespace".

Visually-speaking, I think movies are a fast-moving collection of symbols that our subconscious minds react to. Yep, that’s right, I’m referring to Jung’s definition of archetypes. The symbol of “mother” or “teacher” are universal symbols that we as human beings seem to process the same way, independent of culture or background or upbringing. Not to get too esoteric, but these same ideas of archetypes are the basis for the Tarot deck.

One method of choosing (or predicting) user experience is to create personas for the user. Let’s say I’m building a new site for my personal resume (which I am). Suppose Steve, a middle-aged manager of a marketing department at a medium-sized company is looking for a web developer (or UX/UI designer). Steve knows relatively little about how developers work, but he does know what he finds aesthetically pleasing. My job in building this new site is to please Steve’s eye, but also help him find the information he needs to determine whether I’d be a good candidate for the job. That would include my contact info, easily clicked samples of my code and designs, and my work history (so he knows I’m experienced).

So what if there were methods of mapping these archetypes and emotionally-charged information for website users? How would you use symbols to increase users and/or website sales? It’s a bit Mad Men, isn’t it?

I recently heard about a company that uses neural networks and software to predict movie ticket sales based on words in the movie title and plot synopsis.

This has got to be where most things are headed. My initial thought is, this is exactly what’s missing from website development! Granted, people use SEO methods and meta keywords to improve their Google search rankings, but what if there was a method of analyzing the design elements and user experience of a website as a predictor of website a) sales b) returning users and c) customer-initiated viral marketing?

That would be a great way to sell design AND improve user experience, and it could be industry-specific. Perhaps one design element works better with online clothing retailers than it does with luxury car sites, for instance.

Glad I signed up for that artificial intelligence class at Stanford!

What is “white space”?

White space is commonly referred to as the space between things, such as words of text, or images, or radio frequencies. For a long time I’ve been interested in what’s left out of conversations, design, or print. What are those unspoken messages that we process, information we read between the lines, or visual cues we intuit without actually seeing?

As a web developer, I’ve become very interested in how a user experiences a website, without knowing what’s behind the scenes. Code itself contains a series of spaces (or non-spaces) that define its characteristics, how it displays on a page, and the functionality it enables. When I’m coding a widget or description, I must pay attention to the visual spacing the code will create for the user, as well as the spacing of the code itself (so it remains valid and parses). Luckily, however, as a developer I can validate or parse my code before it goes live; if the spacing is incorrect, I receive an error message:

A website user, unfortunately, doesn’t have the option of validating the messages they’re receiving; they have to make sense of what limited information they’re given to make purchases, find information, or communicate with others. How does a website make a user feel? How does a user figure out how to use a site and its tools? Can we define it?

When I was in college, a few of my English courses focused on post-modernism and deconstruction. One of my professors loosely defined “deconstruction” as explaining or recognizing what’s not being said or talked about in the story. What’s the elephant in the room?

In this blog I’ll attempt to deconstruct — or decode — what’s happening for users in terms of usability and emotional experience. You know, the sound of silence.

Thanks for reading.

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